Food Chain Magnate might be the best tabletop game ever designed and you can play it on your iPad

03 Jun 2016 18

Three red chips. Fifteen lousy dollars was all I had to my name as I watched the other players count up their hundreds at the end of a recent game of Splotter's Food Chain Magnate. It was an epic failure, possibly the worst showing I've had in any game I'd ever played. It was also the game that convinced me that Food Chain Magnate wasn't just another tabletop game but was the most intriguing board game I'd ever played.

The secret ingredient in FCM is diversity. I'm not talking about multiple victory conditions. In fact, FCM has only one path: sell the most stuff. FCM's diversity comes from the methods you use to get there. FCM is a business simulation and, each turn, you need to set up your corporate structure. There are 32 different employees to choose from, all the way from Executive VPs down to Waitresses and Burger Cooks and this is where things get interesting.

FCM ss004

Just a sample of who you can hire and how you can train them to different positions

FCM's board consists of roads and houses, none of which want to buy anything you're selling until you market to them. Like good consumers, as soon as they spot a billboard signing the praises of your pizza or junk mail hawking your lemonade they decide they need to head out to the local fast food joint and give you their cash. Thus, you're not only responsible for creating the supply, you're also in charge of creating the demand. Ignore either and you'll be lucky to end up with $15 at game's end.

FCM ss002

The airplanes are like flies in this town.

It's not quite that simple, though, and it turns out that making food and marketing it are actually the easy bits. Once marketed, you still have to actually sell your products. To do so you'll need Pricing and Discount Managers, lowering your price below your competitors. Or you can try to market and produce items that no one else is making, but it's usually easier for others to switch production and jump on your customers at a lower price, so price wars can seem inevitable. This is where I tend to fall apart in my games, not wanting to join in on the race to bottom barrel pricing but realizing, if I don't, I'll have a bunch of expensive hamburgers that no one will buy. This is where Milestones come in.

FCM ss005

Milestones, the true heart of the game. Or not?

Milestones are basically special abilities you gain by doing something first. Board game achievements, if you will.  For example, at the end of each turn you are required to toss all the food you produced and didn't sell in the garbage and starting over from scratch next turn. If you're the first person to toss food, however, you earn a Milestone that nabs you a freezer to store up to 10 items each round. If you're the first to market burgers, you get +$5 on every burger you sell. Recruit 3 new employees in one turn? Gain a few extra Management Trainees in the process. Trying to combine the Milestones you earn (or prevent your opponents from earning) with the ever-changing game state is exhilarating. There's not only 4-5 Milestones to target, either. There are 17 different Milestones and, while some seem incredibly overpowered at first glance, we have yet to find one that tips the balance too far in anyone's favor. While it might not be readily apparent, they can all be countered, somehow.

FCM ss 001

Now hiring...

Why am I talking about Food Chain Magnate, a tabletop game, here at Pocket Tactics? There's no app in development for the game (and I don't think there ever will be. I can't imagine an AI playing competently, although I'm sure it would earn more than $15 at game's end), but you can play the game quite easily on your mobile device via BoardGameCore

BoardGameCore is a website that, until recently, I was unfamiliar with. It's a smaller site that features both FCM and another Splotter title, Antiquity. Food Chain Magnate was only recently introduced and it is still going through some growing pains, but I've played multiple games on the site now and it actually works incredibly well.

While FCM sounds like a complex game, the mechanisms involved are actually quite simple. The complexity lies not in the how you do things, but in the why. I still haven't figured that out, but I'm having so much fun exploring the game, I kind of hope I never do. If you want to play a game of FCM over at BoardGameCore, I'd be happy to lose terribly to you. If you're a newbie, I'd be happy to show you how to play FCM very poorly. Either way, my username over there is Neumannium, so look me up!

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